Q. Is high-fructose corn syrup bad for you?

By Joyce Hendley, September/October 2007

Is high-fructose corn syrup bad for you?

A. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a manmade sweetener that’s found in a wide range of processed foods, from ketchup and cereals to crackers and salad dressings. It also sweetens just about all of the (regular) soda Americans drink. HFCS used in foods is between 50 to 55 percent fructose—so chemically, it’s virtually identical to table sugar (sucrose), which is 50 percent fructose. Metabolic studies suggest our bodies break down and use HFCS and sucrose the same way.

Yet, after HFCS began to be widely introduced into the food supply 30-odd years ago, obesity rates skyrocketed. And because the sweetener is so ubiquitous, many blame HFCS for playing a major role in our national obesity epidemic. As a result, some shoppers equate HFCS with “toxic waste” when they see it on a food label. But when it comes right down to it, a sugar is a sugar is a sugar. A can of soda contains around nine teaspoons of sugar in the form of HFCS—but, from a biochemical standpoint, drinking that soda is no worse for you than sipping home-brewed iced tea that you’ve doctored with nine teaspoons of table sugar or an equivalent amount of honey.

Even Barry Popkin, Ph.D., a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who previously suggested, in an influential 2004 paper, a possible HFCS-obesity link, stresses that the real obesity problem doesn’t lie just with HFCS. Rather, it’s the fact that sugars from all sources have become so prevalent in our food supply, especially in our beverages. He scoffs at the “natural” sweeteners sometimes added to upscale processed foods like organic crackers and salad dressings. “They all have the same caloric effects as sugar,” he explains. “I don’t care whether something contains concentrated fruit juice, brown sugar, honey or HFCS. The only better sweetener option is ‘none of the above.’”

At EatingWell, it’s our philosophy to keep any sweeteners we use in our recipes to a minimum—and likewise, to limit processed foods with added sugars of any type, including HFCS. We recommend you do the same.

Did you know?

The corn syrup found on supermarket shelves is only a distant cousin to the high-fructose corn syrup used commercially. Both start by processing corn starch with enzymes and/or acids, but the HFCS process is much more complex and results in a different chemical structure.

Download a Free Cookbook with Our Best Healthy Dessert Recipes!


Corn is used to make cattle fatter. Farmers in Argentina, who were interested in selling their meat to Americans, started feeding cattle corn, so they would be fatter. Fattier beef is more appealing to Americans, this is why Argentine farmers who export their beef to the States, now feed their cattle corn.


06/30/2012 - 2:49am

To the person who said corn makes you fat and corn is fed to cattle to make them fat:
Where did you receive your degree in nutrition? After all of that schooling how did you manage to also receive a degree in animal nutrition. Corn has been a staple part of mans diet since the beginning of time, long before obesity was an issue. Furthermore corn is not fed to cattle to make them fat. Farmers do not make money on fat. The more fat, the less $ per pound. I could go on and on. Say what you want about HFCS but leave agriculture itself out of it. Farming produces some of the very few made-in-america products. Ignorance is way worse than HFCS, just my opinion.


06/28/2012 - 9:18am

You are what you eat. If you eat like a corn fed cow you will look like one too!


06/25/2012 - 3:57pm

Nobody would put 9 teaspoons of sugar in tea .. So this argument doesn't stand up.
HFCs are there in sodas to cover up what ?? If they have to put 9 teaspoons of sugar in it to make it palatable .. What the heck are they hiding ?! Come on people wake up !!


06/24/2012 - 7:43pm

The brain needs GLUCOSE and oxygen, not fructose. Fructose has no purpose in the body and has to be processed by the liver. The more the liver has to process fructose, the less it can process other toxins in the body,and the hardthater it has to work, the sooner it will quit working. The more toxins we have in our bodies, the more susceptible we are to diseases; obesity, diabetes, cancer, you name it.


06/23/2012 - 11:09am

HFCS actually makes a person want to eat more. For some reason it makes us feel like continuing to eat.
I am not sure if it has something to do with the brain to stomach to cravings not being coming satisfied?
I have read this and I avoid HFCS at all costs. I like Stevia or natural cane crystals Organic of course.
Corn anything makes a person and animal FAT. Why do you think it is fed to cattle to fatten them up is why.


06/22/2012 - 7:09am

As if HFCS isn't bad enough, most likely, HFCS is derived from biotech/gmo corn!


06/21/2012 - 12:49am

good grief.. You should avoid any type of sugar. not just corn syrup. It's not any more 'poisonous' than cane syrup or fructose. And people who believe so are nut jobs. Limit all sugar (in any form) and you'll feel better/do better/lose weight/etc.


06/20/2012 - 3:27pm

I look at all products I buy ... if it's in there I won't buy it or use it. I'm removing this poison from my diet and feel better about it ... Furthermore it is supposed to be cheaper to purchase raw for products sold, so why haven't they reduced prices on items that it contains ... I am sticking with real cane sugar! And I believe it's a slow poisoning to keep the medical system operating as less people smoke today ... and without problems with health, there would be a large medical community ... Let the future behold the truth ... for no I'm staying away from it ...


06/18/2012 - 11:15am

Yes, it is. It doesn't make a person gain weight, but it can cause diseases that are related to a sugar overload. Like diabetics. Stay away from it. But, just remember, everything eaten in proportion isn't "really" that bad for you.


06/13/2012 - 6:07pm

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner